Jay Clemons of SI discusses Nats and fantasy baseball

Now I don’t know about most people but with Spring Training set to start next month I’m already amped for the start of the season and as we know with the start of the season also comes fantasy baseball season.

So I decided to check in with Jay Clemons of SI.com to get his fantasy baseball outlook on some of the Washington Nationals going in to this season.

Alright well first Jay I just want to say thanks for taking a couple minutes out of your time to talk some fantasy baseball and more specifically the Washington Nationals with me.

So far the only real significant offseason moves by the Nationals have been the signing of Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche. So lets talk about them first…

Werth is going from a pretty loaded lineup in Philly to a team in Washington that was in the bottom 10 of the league in pretty much every hitting stat category. Do you think the change in teams will hurt Werth’s numbers much this season? What type of numbers are you expecting?

“I owned Werth in my two favorite leagues last year, and I can vividly recall two particular slumps that seemingly went on forever. But when taking in the totality of his season — .296 average, 27 HRs, 85 RBIs, 13 steals — Werth’s numbers weren’t too bad (even though his power numbers were down from 2009). Bottom line: Werth, in my mind, is an above-average second-tier player who probably belongs in the Phillies’ star-laden lineup, instead of given the responsibility of carrying the Nationals. But who among us is going to turn down a ridiculous number like $126 million with a franchise that’ll be respectable in 2-3 years? Not me.

To answer your latter question, I fully expect Werth’s power numbers for this season to fit in nicely between his 2009 and 2010 outputs, with the possibility of maybe 16-18 steals. However, I’m also assuming his batting- and plate-discipline numbers will dovetail in 2011, given the increased opportunities to swing at unflattering pitches. But as long as anyone doesn’t reach for him on draft day — and I’m talking any pick from Rounds 1-3 — fantasy owners will probably be satisfield with Werth’s production, barring major injury.”

Adam LaRoche when factoring in both fielding as well as hitting is a fairly good player in real life. However though when it comes to fantasy baseball he has never been known as being that great of a player. So for the fans looking for some Nats worth drafting, should they avoid taking LaRoche on draft day?

“Personally, I’ve never understood the need to draft a player out of loyalty to one’s hometown team — especially someone of LaRoche’s replaceable talents. Obviously, that statement wouldn’t apply to any player from the preseason Top 75, but LaRoche, despite finishing with 25 HRs and 100 RBIs last season, doesn’t crack that list at this point in his career. Just go to BaseballReference.com and his .320 OBP and .468 slugging rates from last year stick out like a sore thumb … and that’s not even factoring in his typically slllllllow starts in April and May. If I had to attach an estimate to LaRoche’s predraft value — and keep in mind I’ve done little research to this point — he’d be nothing more than a Round 17-20 flier pick. In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if Mike Morse produced similar numbers, on an at-bat basis.”

Ryan Zimmerman, who I would say is easily a top-5 third baseman, may be the only elite Nats player in fantasy baseball this year. Do you think Adam Dunn’s absence will hurt Zimmerman’s numbers this season, or do you still consider him to be a strong threat for 100 runs, 100 RBIs, 30 homers and batting .300?

“I had Zimmerman ranked as the No. 9 third baseman last March, and looking back, he probably deserved a top-6 slot. But that doesn’t mean I erred in judgment. By nature, I’m skeptical of guys whose numbers wildly fluctuate on last-place ballclubs; but even with his slight dip in power (compared to 2009), I actually feel better about Zimmerman’s 2011 prospects. If I was a betting man, I’d say 27 homers, 94 RBIs, 105 runs and a .294 average. Put it all together, and he’s an ideal Round 3 pick (although I usually wait until the later rounds for third baseman — Alex Gordon, Gordon Beckham or Casey McGehee).”

The Nats are really high on two infield prospects, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa. Do you think that Desmond is set to have a good season? what type of numbers are fair to expect from him? And as far as shortstops go, where about should people rank him?

“I would have no problems with owning Desmond in the 2B/SS reserve slot that’s so popular in the SI.com & Friends league. In short bursts, Desmond showed tremendous promise last year, and I fully expect him to take another step forward in 2011. However, he’s going to be 26 in September, meaning he should no longer be treated with kid gloves by management. Barring major injury, it’s time for the Nats to go all-in with Desmond’s tangible talents … to see if he can actually cut it for 150 games. If I had to make a projection … 13 HRs, 74 RBIs, .274 average and 72 runs … with an upside greater than someone like Yuniesky Betancourt at the same age.”

Now as for Danny Espinosa he did not get called up until September so we did not get to see too much of him in the majors yet. From what you have seen though what is your take on him?

“As for Espinosa, I’m going to be honest here: I’ve never seen the kid swing a live bat and have only tracked his progress through the dot-com expertise of Retrosheet.org, BaseballReference.com, Rotowire and, of course, Baseball America. And from afar, he seems like a Dan Uggla/Ty Wigginton type, in relation to Brian Roberts or Ian Kinsler. But hey, that’s not bad! Bottom line: If the Nationals are going to seriously challenge the Mets for 4th place in the NL East this season, both Desmond and Espinosa have to demonstrate consistency at their respective positions. Lord knows Washington’s up-the-middle stars must close that Grand Canyon-sized hole left by Stephen Strasburg in the Nats’ rotation.”

Without Strasburg for much of this season, the Nationals may be without a true No. 1 pitcher. What are your expectations of Jordan Zimmerman, who’s coming back from Tommy John surgery, and where should fantasy owners draft him? What are some ballpark projections for Zimmerman?

“I have been eagerly anticipating Jordan’s comeback for some time. I am fanatical about K-to-BB ratio and WHIP — the two greatest indicators of pitching success at the major league level — and Zimmerman has fared well in these categories through four pro seasons. But ay the rub: The kid simply doesn’t have enough innings to be drafted with confidence in standard 10-, 12- or even 14-team leagues. Now, that doesn’t mean he won’t be MY flier in pick in the final round … but generally speaking, I’d be suprised if Zimmerman was drafted above Round 20 come March, barring an amazing Spring Training.”

Out of the Nationals that I have not asked about, is there anyone worth considering taking on draft day? And if so, what round would you suggest targeting them in?

“I fully expect Bryce Harper to be drafted in every fantasy league this spring — just in case Washington does the unthinkable and promotes the kid sometime after June 1. Harper is THAT good … or so we’re told. In fact, it’s quite possible that Harper and Strasburg may rank as the Nos. 1 and 2 stashee picks in fantasy leagues for 2011. Aside from that duo, I would prioritze Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen in the reliver pool. People will go to great lengths to find gem closers in the latter rounds, and either Clippard or Storen could end up being underrated studs for saves come August. As for the hitters, I’d be OK with having Roger Bernadina, Wilson Ramos or Derek Norris in reserve roles. Just don’t kill yourself trying to land ‘em on draft day.”

Thanks again for taking some time to talk to me it was definitely very informative and hopefully we can talk again once the season gets going.

For all of the readers at Teddy Never Wins keep an eye out for Jay’s work especially come baseball season because he is a guy who definitely knows what he is talking about.

and for anyone who wants to follow me you can so at

http://twitter.com/#!/scottstewart81

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